Friday, March 18, 2016 11:59 pm
By Bola Bolawole
The answer should appear obvious! Muslims – indeed, all adherents – should be free to proselytize. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees the freedom to hold religious beliefs and to belong to religious groups. No one may be discriminated against on account of his or her religious beliefs, grouping, and or association. Inherent in these rights are also the freedom to freely express one’s religious views as well as engage in forms of religious worship. Incumbent on all adherents or faithful is the need to attract, woo or encourage others to their religious point of view so that they may eventually join you to worship your God. Christianity mandates all adherents to “go into the world and make disciples of all nations”.
The Mission and Vision statements of The Redeemed Christian Church of God, where I worship, include: “To make heaven; to take as many people as possible with us; to plant churches in every country of the world; and to ensure that there is at least a TRCCG member in each of the families of the world” (paraphrase, please). These cannot be done without evangelising. So Christians preach everywhere – in churches, homes, in the streets, house-to-house, in buses, and even in planes and yachts. We organise all manner of church programmes, activities, retreats, open air crusades, film shows, vigils as well as go on television and radio, all of which is aimed at not only cementing the faith of the converted but also – and perhaps more importantly – winning new converts. Scripture testifies to the importance of soul-winning when it says there is more rejoicing in Heaven over a sinner who repents than over 99 others needing no conversion.
So, for Christians, evangelism is not just a must in this world, it is also one of the yardsticks by which we shall be judged and rewarded when we stand before God on the last day. The number of souls won for Christ is the number of stars or decorations that will adorn your heavenly crown – which is the evidence of your having made Paradise as opposed to Hell.
Muslims, too, evangelize. I may not be familiar with the various ways they do or the avenues available unto them; I do know that they go to mosques and these days, Muslim groups proliferate like their Christian counterparts. NASFAT and such other groups now exist and also have camps where they organise periodic programmes for their members. I have seen Muslims congregate in mosques all night in what seems to be like our own night vigil as well as hold programmes for days on end in what also appears to resemble our own conventions and congresses. I have not, however, encountered Muslims preaching in buses. Each time I do, I notice (by their dressing, at least) that there are always Muslims in the bus and I wonder what must be going on in their minds.
Why can’t Muslims –or, better still, why don’t Muslims – preach in buses? Why don’t they go from street-to-street with megaphones or even their bare voices proselytizing? Perhaps, this is done in some other parts of the country or the world; perhaps, it is just not their own way or style of winning souls. Whatever, freedom of religion is a must for all! In the exercise of this, freedom from harassment, molestation, and danger is also sine qua non. Nobody may be barred from holding religious views or expressing them. None may be prevented from worshipping the deity of his\her choice. Even where we disagree with someone else’s choice, we may not disturb or compel him. Force or intimidation is out of it. Only moral suasion is allowed.
This had not always been so, though. In times past, crusades and jihads had been fought on account of religion; either to convert or resist being converted against one’s free will. In some parts of the world today, especially where the State is opposed to religion, people’s right and freedom to religion are still being brazenly abridged. From subtle to outright bare-faced application, force is applied to punish defaulters. There are places where you cannot openly declare yourself Christian or Muslim; where the Bible or Koran must not be found on you; and where you must not be caught preaching to others. In many Islamic nations of the world, Christianity is either forbidden outright or Christians are seriously constrained.
Let conversion be properly approached and let it be done according to law, conscience, and morality. Don’t steal juveniles; this is akin to what the slave dealers did during the obnoxious Slave Trade, which has been appropriately branded crime against humanity. Don’t compel conversion; people should be free to decide. Don’t kidnap children and take them away from their parents; this is unadulterated criminality. Don’t force children into marriages they don’t want and are not ripe for. This is not only criminal but also injurious to the psyche and good health of the juveniles concerned. Rather than imprison, brutalize, and destroy, religion should liberate us from an earthly life of sin and oppression whilst reconciling us unto God
Some are even imprisoned or are put to death! In Nigeria, it is said that many of the (Muslim?) states in the North do not, as policy and rule, give Certificate of Occupancy to Christian organisations and churches while Christians are discriminated against in appointments and other perquisites generously extended to Muslims. The reasons for evangelism are obvious enough: One, as stated above, is that it is a divine injunction. Two is that it confers an advantage of security and safety if your religion is predominant or fairly strong where you are domiciled. Three is that it stands a good chance of shielding you from discrimination, from subtle to outright bare-faced application of force while also helping to ensure that you get your dues, even if it does not confer undue advantages on you. Four is that it accords you some bragging rights, as football enthusiasts would say.
One or more of the above reasons must have been responsible for the recent unsavoury events of some under-aged girls being abducted by adults said to be Muslims; the girls were taken far away from their homes and parents; were forcibly converted into Islam; and, in some of the cases, were compelled into illegal marriage. Involved here is the sheer criminality of abduction, rape, and forced marriage as well as the abridgment of the rights to freedom of worship. Apart from the case of Ese Oruru, three other such girls were last week freed from bondage in Bauchi. Many more are said to still be in incarceration. The perpetrators of such heinous crimes must be brought to book, whoever they are and whatever the status of those shielding them. Beyond that, however, we must appreciate the involvement in the saga of state Shariah commissions. It would appear that converting the juveniles to Islam ranked high in the priorities of those concerned.
Be that as it may, let conversion be properly approached and let it be done according to law, conscience, and morality. Don’t steal juveniles; this is akin to what the slave dealers did during the obnoxious Slave Trade, which has been appropriately branded crime against humanity. Don’t compel conversion; people should be free to decide. Don’t kidnap children and take them away from their parents; this is unadulterated criminality. Don’t force children into marriages they don’t want and are not ripe for. This is not only criminal but also injurious to the psyche and good health of the juveniles concerned. Rather than imprison, brutalize, and destroy, religion should liberate us from an earthly life of sin and oppression whilst reconciling us unto God – so we may live here on earth a life of peace and fulfilment; with the added expectation of bliss in life hereafter.
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